Part 24: Level Two: The Best Worst Possible OutcomeLevel Two: The Best Worst Possible Outcome
Leaving Matilda brings us to a new maze. Interestingly, we can skip this entire sidequest; that optional PoP off to the west is the Taralen Mountains, and there's nothing we actually need from it to progress. So yes, it's possible to just leave both the crone and merchant hanging and never show up, but we won't be doing that.
We've seen this art before. Or is that where the roc took us? Who can say.
You come across a mountain range of awesome extent. The peaks are not forested, but dry, desolate. Between them are gullied slopes, canyons, and badlands. You fear it will take you long to cross such a jagged range. To the north, there seems to be a pass between two tall peaks.
We could travel through the pass (and see below for how that works out), but we're here to catch us a goshawk, so we'll climb the peak instead.
You find the tallest peak you can and climb it. It is exhausting work, and several times you must backtrack to find a route that your horse can negotiate. At last, however, you come to the pinnacle. The view is breathtaking. Crag after crag extend as far as the eye can see. Below you, a trail runs through the pass. Along it, at regular intervals, are small buildings that, judging by the smoke that rises from them, are occupied.
For the most part, none of these options will do anything, so let's do as Matilda said and sing a song.
I have many questions about our character's repertoire, but let's leave that for now.
We're looking for "Does My Maggie Cry," so that's what we'll pick (though according to my notes, for some reason, "Teen Angel" also works), and...
By the time the song ends, you have captured the goshawk. It becomes aware of the cage around it, and opens its beak to shriek. Satisfied, you mount up and descend the mountain.
Well, that was surprisingly painless. So far.
He is delighted. "O faithful Frank, I have no words. Come, I shall fulfill my part of the bargain. If ever you should visit the palace of Osmet Khan..."
But before he can continue, who should barge into the tent but the Crone Matilda. She swipes the cage from you. "So, dearie," she shrieks. "You think to cheat me of my due, eh?"
Look, just tell me what you were going to say and I'll leave you two lovebirds to hash this out.
"Your information," you say insistently. "I have fulfilled my part of the bargain."
"Yes?" says the merchant coldly. "The bargain was that you would give me the goshawk. I do not have it." Matilda shrieks with laughter.
There are numerous ways this could go, but for now we're just going to stand here like an idiot and let Matilda finish.
Before your astonished gaze, the merchant begins to transform into a lizard. His limbs become stubby; his skin turns green... "Time for iguana stew," cackles Matilda.
Y'know what? This goshawk wasn't worth it, and neither of these people are worth giving it to. I'm just gonna let it go.
You open the goshawk's cage. Instantly, the creature hurtles from it and flies toward Matilda. She shrieks as it knots its claws in her scraggly hair. The goshawk seems to grow until the tent cannot hold it and the walls burst asunder. It flies across the desert, carrying Matilda, who shrieks imprecations. They disappear toward the horizon. The merchant returns to human form.
And that's the last we'll ever see of Matilda, I'm sure.
The merchant hurls his hookah to the ground and jumps up and down in rage. "May that evil harridan bear eighteen sons, all of whom revile her in her old age!" You forbear to mention that she is already old.
Alright, we saved your life, you better just tell us the damn hint already.
"Bah! You did not fulfill YOUR part of the bargain!"
"But I did," you protest. "I brought you the bird. 'Tis not my fault you could not keep it."
"You freed it, you fool! Why should I..."
"You would have preferred life as an iguana? The crone could easily have..."
"Bah," says the merchant again. "Very well. But do not expect any payment other than this information. If you visit the palace of Osmet Khan, remember this: Only those quick as lightning may cross the Forest of Blades."
"That's it?" you say, unbelievingly.
"Yes," says the merchant, scowling.
I could leave at this point, but I have the option to kill him and there are no consequences for it, so:
You draw the Sword Valterre and slice the merchant in two. You feel much better now. Nothing left to do, you leave.
I'm pretty unironically sure we won't be seeing him again either. Onward to the maze exit!
Huh. Wonder what dangerous travails await us with this thing.
As it turns out, every answer here is correct (except turning back). No matter what, you'll be able to pass this rather curiously short PoP by doing anything you like.
Get Under Cover: By the time you reach the place where the mighty funnel rose, all that is left are a few dust devils and a slight breeze.
Ride Toward It: As you ride toward it, the whirlwind seems to die down, dissipating gradually.
Ride Around It: You circle the whirlwind, giving it a wide berth. The whirlwind is dissipating even as you watch, losing its form, becoming smaller. Finally, it seems to disappear entirely. At last, you reach the edge of this plain.
Wonder what all that was about. And no, there are no secret solutions or alternate outcomes or clues. Sometimes a random whirlwind is just a random whirlwind, I guess.
Alternate Solutions & Deaths
Instead of climbing the peak, we could go through the pass, which is uneventful but provides a bit of context.
You travel through the pass, and find the journey easier than you expected. There are shelters and caches of supplies at regular intervals along the trail. From time to time, you pass a larger structure where Tercelid soldiers are quartered along with stabled ponies. The soldiers study you, but do not interfere. You wonder at their purpose, until a soldier gallops past you, riding wildly.
Clearly, these are remount stations; and this must be part of the communications network that allows Osmet Khan to control his realm. After several days, you come to the end of the trail.
Atop the mountain peak, we had some extra options. None of them do much, but here's a few of the outcomes.
Leap: Bravely, you hurl yourself from the peak of the mountain and plummet to your death.
Yodel: The sound reverberates off the peaks very satisfactorily.
Eat Lunch: It is tasty. When you are finished, you climb down with your horse.
Pray: You feel better for your piety. Finished with your prayer, you descend the peak.
If we were to just stand around a while after Matilda turned the merchant into an iguana, the following could occur.
Matilda eyes you beadily. "Time for you to leave, dearie," she says, not unkindly. "Unless you wish to join your friend."
You draw the Sword Valterre and lunge toward the crone. "Don't ye ever learn?" She shrieks. She gestures, and your blade goes flying, slicing its way through the fabric of the tent. She begins a complex spell, waving her arms and chanting wildly.
You shrink. You turn green. Your arms become stubby and end in claws. You realize that you have been transformed into an iguana. You scuttle out of the tent and into the sun. You do not have the brains to realize your plight. You have a long (by iguana standards) and fruitful (ditto) life. Eventually an Atarri captures you and makes you into iguana stew.
Finally, while Matilda and the merchant are fighting, we can grab the goshawk cage and run.
Miraculously, you make it from the tent with the goshawk, unnoticed by the others. You hurtle atop your mount and gallop away across the desert. Even more miraculously, you get away with it. You have the goshawk, for which you have no use; and you do not have the information you sought. But at least you escaped with your skin intact.
Hey, sometimes it's best to just get the hell out. And should any future puzzles require a caged goshawk, why, we're all set! They will not.